Across Europe, universities aim at preparing the future generation of academics and professionals for the challenges of public policymaking, international business administration and European affairs.

In Maastricht (the Netherlands), Zuyd University of Applied Sciences with their 50 bachelor’s, master’s and associate degree programmes is driven by the ambition to turn theoretical knowledge into practical solutions from day one. In daily academic life, the university’s 14.000 students benefit from project-based learning methods and active support for the development of their communication, teamwork and problem-solving skills.

At the same time, the research projects of Zuyd are driven by close collaboration with businesses and government bodies. In the field of European Studies, for instance, the university’s readiness to team up with the managing bodies of Interreg programmes paved the ground for targeted guest lectures and interactive group simulations on EU funding and project management.

In 2020, an internal reform of the programme’s curriculum opened the door to test new approaches and teaching methods, thus raising the university’s interest in the peer review methodology applied by the Policy Learning Platform of Interreg Europe. As our attentive readers know, Interreg Europe is an interregional cooperation programme for European cities and regions. With the launched peer review service, the programme offers new possibilities for local and regional policymakers to address the challenges at their doorsteps through in-depth policy exchanges with carefully selected peers and experts. 

Hence, contributing to the curriculum’s spotlight on economic integration and the single market, the decision was taken to test Interreg Europe’s peer review concept in Zuyd’s course module on EU Competitiveness. Following an introductory guest lecture given by the Project Manager of the Policy Learning Platform, Thorsten Kohlisch, the students were asked to team up in focus groups for the preparation of regional/national policy action plans on one of five pre-defined policy challenges:

  • Phasing out of coal (DE, DK, ES, PL)
  • Sustainable tourism (IT, NL, PT, SI)
  • Future-proofing rural regions (ES, FR, IT, PL)
  • Demographic decline (DE, EL, IT, SE)
  • Circular economy (DK, ES, NL, SK)

As the next item on the project agenda, the 79 participating students had to analyse the related challenges and solutions from the national/regional perspectives of their focus groups. What is Denmark doing to foster circular economy solutions? How is the challenge of sustainability in the tourism sector tackled in Slovenia? The Good practices database of Interreg Europe provided the students with valuable and very practical insights about what European cities and regions are already doing. 

Students listening to guest lecture

Thus, in early October 2020 the ground was well-prepared for the hot phase of the exercise: five interactive peer learning sessions with four regional/national focus groups per session and theme. 

'Despite the constraints caused by the COVID-19 context, we saw motivated students, content-rich presentations and solution-oriented discussions on the policy issues at stake', reports Katrin Büttgen, the responsible lecturer and course tutor at Zuyd University. In fact, the commitment of the students also became visible through the high quality of the drafted policy action plans, thus reconfirming the success of the pilot initiative. As a result, Katrin and her colleagues are planning to fully integrate the peer learning methodology in the new curriculum of the European Studies programme.

The lecturer concludes: 'Intensified group works, streamlined research and the uptake of Interreg Europe’s 'learning nugget' approach will help us fine-tune the methodology for next year. In this spirit, we are looking forward to continuing our cooperation with the team of the Policy Learning Platform. Indeed, as we believe at Zuyd, European-wide peer learning should be part of each professional’s toolbox when addressing the economic and environmental challenges of today.'

For further information about the pilot project, please contact:

Katrin Büttgen, MA, Lecturer, European Studies, Zuyd University: [email protected]

Thorsten Kohlisch, Project Manager, Interreg Europe Policy Learning Platform: [email protected]

Image credit: Photo by Zen Chung from Pexels